I’ve always heard that men hit their sexual peak at age 17 and women at age 35 — and I didn’t really question it. But if you think about it for a minute, that’s pretty terrible news for women who have sex with men and men who have sex with women. Those numbers imply that boys are at their best sexually before they even officially become men and that by the time women are ready to go, those dudes are 17 years into a long, slow decline. Because that’s how a peak works: You go up one side, hit the top, and then go back down the other. Depressing AF, am I right? But when you actually examine the idea of “sexual peak,” things get a bit more complicated than those two numbers alone could ever communicate.
First of all, the definition of sexual peak has varied through the years. Those numbers that everyone cites can be traced back to Alfred Kinsey, who did his groundbreaking research on human sexuality in the 1940s. One of the questions he asked participants was “How many orgasms do you have per week?” For men, the most orgasms were had at age 18. For women, it was in their mid-30s.
But think about 18-year-old men. Think about their sexual habits. There’s one thing in particular that men that age are kind of known for: Masturbation. When you consider that, it becomes clear that “number of orgasms” is different than “satisfying sex life.” And that’s really how we think of sexual peak these days: A time when you’re having the most and best sex of your life.
So with that in mind, here are four different scientific explanations for when men and women hit their sexual peaks.
1Women: 26, Men: 32
In a survey of their customers, the sex toy company Lovehoney asked (among other things) when people were having the “best sex” of their lives. Obviously, this is an entirely subjective question — and answer — but their data can still be illuminating. They found that women were having the “best sex” of their lives at age 26, while men were reporting age 32 to be the best.
2Women: Late 20s, Early 30s, Men: Late Teens
If you look specifically at hormone levels and how they affect sexuality, then women’s sexual peak would be in their late 20s, while men’s would be in their late teens — similar to Kinsey’s findings. That’s when the hormones involved at sex are at their highest and people are in their “genital prime.” That means they’re most easily aroused, physically, at that point.
But we know now that sexual arousal isn’t just about our genitals. Arousal involves all of your senses — smell, site, touch — and, of course, your brain as well. So using genital prime as a proxy for sexual prime may not be very accurate either.
3Women: Ages 27-45, Men: Pretty Steady Throughout
One study from researchers at the University of Texas found that women reached their sexual peak at in their 30s and 40s, up until menopause, while men had a peak in number of orgasms in late teen years and then held steady basically until they died. The authors of the study theorized that this was because there was a high mortality rate for infants and children back in the day. As a result, women had to actively try to get pregnant a lot in order to have the number of kids they wanted to have.
While it’s relatively easy to get pregnant during peak fertility (which the authors cite as being up to age 27), it’s harder as you move toward menopause. So, the authors believe, women would benefit evolutionarily from having sex more frequently as they got older — at least until they became infertile.
4Women: Ages 45-55
One survey conducted by marketing company Lippe Taylor and HealthyWomen.org that included more than 1,000 women found that the 89 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 55 were at the most experimental sexual phase of their lives. That could be because of one of two reasons: Women get more comfortable with themselves as they age, and this is usually around the time the kids go off to college, freeing up all those extra rooms for parental extracurriculars...
5All Genders: RIGHT NOW
Lovehoney’s survey also uncovered another interesting tidbit: 46 percent of respondents said they were having the best sex of their lives right now. Yup, right now could very well be your sexual peak.
And that’s the lesson we should all take from the idea of "sexual peak": There is no one time that you’re destined by biology or science or whatever to have the best sex of your life. Sexual desire is so complex and so variable that science simply can’t say this is it. While you might look back on your life when you’re about to die and think, “Hmmm, 36 was really a great year for banging,” there’s no way to know if you’re in your peak or if you’ve passed it or if it’s yet to come.
So instead? Focus on making your sex life the best it can be, today and every day. Then, you’ll always be at your peak.